Sky (UK)

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Sky is the UK's foremost pay TV service and was the world's first satellite broadcasting business when it was launched by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation in 1989. After a very shaky start, British Sky Broadcasting (or BSkyB) eventually established itself as one of the country's most profitable broadcasters, buying up rights to many of the UK's biggest sporting events. Almost a decade after its launch the service became the UK's first digital broadcaster, and now delivers more than 500 audio and video channels direct to around a third of all UK households. It has also diversified into broadband, telecoms and even (briefly) a music download service. In 2009, it was named as Britain's Most Admired Company by business magazine Management Today. Following the break-up of News Corporation in 2013, Sky's largest shareholder became 21st Century Fox with a 39% stake. In 2014, the company acquired control of Fox's separate Sky-branded satellite broadcast subsidiaries in Italy and Germany to create a single Sky Europe entity. Two years later, Fox issued a new offer to take full control of the enlarged Sky business. However, intense opposition to the Murdoch empire in political and media circles made it appear increasingly unlikely that regulatory approval would be forthcoming. The Murdochs finally appeared to accept defeat in 2017. At the end of that year, they announced a shock decision to sell the bulk of 21st Century Fox, including Sky, to the Walt Disney Company. A rival offer subsequently materialised from Comcast, and the three companies began jockeying for control of the business. Comcast was ultimately successful, taking ownership of Sky - but not the other Fox assets - with a knock-out bid of £30.6bn.

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Adbrands Company Profiles provide a detailed analysis of the history and current operations of leading advertisers, agencies and brands worldwide, and include a critical summary which identifies key strengths and weaknesses. Adbrands Account Assignments tracks account management for the world's leading brands and companies, including details of which advertising agency handles which accounts in which countries for major markets. Subscribers may access the following website links:

Sky website


Sky1 Nick TV
Sky Sports Comedy Central
At The Races SkyBet
Sky News The History Channel
Sky Songs National Geographic Channel
Sky Movies Sky Arts


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Recent stories from Adbrands Update:

Adbrands Daily Update 8th Oct 2019: "What's Your TV Got For You Tonight?". Engine's new campaign for Now - the contract-free service from satellite broadcaster Sky - really gets to the heart (and other locations) of the TV choice dilemma. It's surprising how few mediaowners are prepared to admit this fact, even about their rivals. There are hundreds of channels available to most viewers these days and thousands of programme choices but you can still never find anything worth watching. That's one of the major factors for the rise of OTT streaming services over traditional cable. The latter's content is 95% rubbish or re-runs, but you're still paying for it month in, month out. Tell it how it is, Now! Great too to see the under-used talent of Robert Webb back on our screens again. Come back, 'Peep Show', we need you more than ever!

Adbrands Social Media 15th Apr 2019: "Molly". Mother launched its first campaign for satellite broadcaster Sky, now a division of Comcast. It's less of a change of strategy than an evolution, with Idris Elba still on-board as the ambassador for the enhanced Sky Q multi-room multi-channel service. But Mother has opened up the campaign style a little more to ground it more firmly in customers' homes, rather than simply Idris's own pad. "All too often, when a new agency comes on board, the impetus is to throw everything out and start afresh," says Mother partner Katie Mackay-Sinclair. "There was a lot that was working well for Sky; so the real opportunity was to augment what was already working by creating a new, richer brand world and a more emotional, insightful dimension to the campaign."

Adbrands Social Media 4th Mar 2019: "F1 2019 Season Launch". Interesting to read Lewis Hamilton's comments over the weekend about the collapsing TV audience for Formula 1 racing. Almost 9m UK viewers watched Hamilton claim his first F1 championship in 2008. Fewer than 2m watched his latest victory in Mexico last season. "I didn't know those numbers," he told an interviewer. "That sounds terrible from a business point of view. That's definitely not cool. I remember growing up and turning on BBC and watching the Grand Prix, it was awesome." The reason, of course, is Sky, which has acquired exclusive live rights for all apart from the British Grand Prix, and tucked them behind a £10-per-month pay-wall. That's even bigger money for the F1 teams and organisation, of course, but Lewis Hamilton already has more cash than he knows what to do with. He's voiced a valid concern about the long-term effects of restricting the audience. This isn't football after all, with a much bigger, broader following. Still, here's the handsome ad produced by Sky's inhouse creative team to launch the 2019 season, a track through the ages of Formula 1. Nice to hear the old 'Grand Prix' TV theme again - Fleetwood Mac's 'The Chain' of course - still in business after all these years.

Adbrands Weekly Update 25th Oct 2018: Satellite broadcaster Sky named Mother as its new lead creative agency in the UK, taking over from WCRS, which will continue to manage mobile and broadband services. Brothers & Sisters stays on the roster for creative projects. That's a major gain for Mother: Sky was the UK's top-spending advertiser in 2017, ahead even of Procter & Gamble.

Adbrands Weekly Update 11th Oct 2018: That was fast. Comcast this week became 75% owner of European satellite broadcaster Sky, following the transfer of 21st Century Fox's 39% controlling stake. Most of Fox's appointed representatives, including chairman James Murdoch, have resigned from the board. It's the end of an era for the Murdoch clan, but a brave new world for Sky (and indeed Comcast). "We are pleased today to be the majority owner of Sky," said Comcast CEO Brian Roberts. "Led by Jeremy Darroch and his superb team - now together with Comcast - our combined global leadership in technology and content paves the way for us to accelerate investment and growth in Sky’s brand and premier platforms. We are also fully committed to ensuring Sky News' future, maintaining its editorial independence, and preserving its strong track record for trusted, high quality, impartial news."

Adbrands Weekly Update 27th Sep 2018: Comcast was victorious in a nail-biting blind auction last Saturday for European satellite broadcaster Sky, fighting off a rival bid from Sky's part-owner Fox in partnership with Walt Disney. In an unprecedented move for a business of this size, UK regulators called the auction to end months of bid and counter-bid between the two sides. After two inconclusive early rounds, Comcast seized the prize in the final contest with an offer of £17.28 per share - equivalent to a total price of £30.6bn or around $39bn - against £15.67 from Fox and Disney. As a result, Disney will proceed with the purchase of the other 21st Century Fox assets as planned. Fox has already said it will surrender its existing 39% stake in Sky to Comcast, which has in turn confirmed that Sky will maintain its notional independence. "The consistent theme at Comcast has been letting leaders of our businesses make their own decisions, being decentralised and keeping an entrepreneurial spirit," said Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said. "We've said this to [Sky CEO] Jeremy [Darroch] and the rest of the Sky team... They will be able to act as an independent company but with the resources of a $150bn company behind them." One hurdle remains: the deal requires majority acceptance by Sky's shareholders; but the decision by Fox to surrender its own 39% stake appears to make full acceptance inevitable.

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Free for all users | see full profile for current activities: Rupert Murdoch's business career has been punctuated by a series of audacious gambles, and Sky was certainly one of the biggest. By the end of the 1980s, Murdoch already had considerable experience of the television business, originally in Australia, then as one of the early investors in the UK's London Weekend Television during the 1970s. [See News Corporation profile]. However the acquisition of Times Newspapers in 1981, added to News of the World and The Sun which he already owned, effectively barred him from playing any further role in UK television. Government regulation prevented newspaper publishers with more than 20% market share from controlling a terrestrial broadcaster. 

These regulations did not apply to companies broadcasting via new satellite technology instead of the existing terrestrial transmitter network. Murdoch took one of the biggest risks of his career to launch his own satellite television station, broadcasting 24 hours a day nationally to the UK. His plan was to offer four channels initially, two offering free entertainment and news, the other two providing movies and sports for a subscription fee. The consensus of opinion within the UK media was that the gamble stood a very high chance of failing. Most observers were convinced that the viewing audience would never choose to pay for television programmes when there were already four strong channels available to them for free. In addition, viewers were obliged to install a new satellite dish in addition to their existing terrestrial aerial. Sharpening the challenge was the arrival of a competitor, BSB, which planned a similar selection of services. BSB was effectively endorsed by the IBA, the UK's broadcasting authority, whereas Sky was generally perceived by the media establishment as an upstart and an outsider.

The factor even Murdoch had not taken into account was the arrival of a severe economic recession shortly after both Sky and BSB launched in 1989 and 1990 respectively. As interest rates rose, both companies began to suffer as the cost of servicing their huge debts spiralled. Worse still, initial public response to satellite television proved lukewarm at best, proving the sceptics right. As a result of the tiny viewing audiences, advertisers too were slow to take the leap. The future of Sky TV, and even of News Corporation itself, was beginning to look very bleak indeed. Luckily for Sky, BSB was the first to crack. Sky took over its competitor in 1990 to become BSkyB. But this only increased the group's costs - the company was reported to be losing £14m a week by the end of that year.

Two things saved Sky. The first was tough new chief executive Sam Chisolm, who cut costs mercilessly, renegotiating contracts to buy programmes cheaper. The second was a bold all-or-nothing deal in 1992 to secure exclusive live broadcasts of Premier League football matches, outbidding terrestrial broadcasters BBC and ITV. Adding to the company's good fortune, the increasing take-up of cable television which also supplied Sky programming into UK homes caused audiences to grow rapidly in 1992 and 1993. 

By 1994, Sky's offering had grown from four channels to almost 20, some branded to Sky, the others joint ventures with US partners. BSkyB floated that year, then Britain's biggest non-privatisation float. The company used part of the proceeds to back a buying spree in the UK sports industry. BSkyB quickly built up a strong portfolio of exclusive sporting broadcast rights, including the dominant position in UK televised football, cricket and rugby, in a series of high price deals. One of the biggest was a £670m deal in 1996 to secure viewing rights for Premier League football for five years.

In order to bolster the output of its sports channels, BSkyB tried to buy UK soccer giants Manchester United for $1bn in 1998. But the deal was subsequently vetoed by regulators. Instead, the company signed strategic alliances with other key football clubs including Chelsea, Leeds United and Sunderland as well as Manchester United, taking small equity stakes and securing media rights. Also in 1998, the group launched the first digital broadcast service in the UK, Sky Digital, and announced plans to switch off its analogue signal by 2002. 

Between 1996 and 1998 Rupert Murdoch attempted to spread his net across Europe as well, forging partnerships with pay TV operators in France, Italy and Germany. In 1997, France's Canal+ acquired a 17% stake in BSkyB in anticipation of a more wide-ranging alliance, but regulatory obstacles and negative French press subsequently got in the way of a deal. Utilities and media conglomerate Vivendi became the ultimate parent of Canal+ in 1998, and began to press for a new deal in 1999. The French group acquired further stakes from other BSkyB shareholders and attempted to broker a merger of Canal+ and BSkyB, but with little success. In Germany, BSkyB acquired a significant stake in Germany's KirchPayTV.

In early 2000, News Corporation announced plans to spin off all of its global satellite television interests in a new business, to be named Sky Global Networks. This entity was intended to take over News Corp's 40% stake in BSkyB as well as its interests in Hong Kong's Star TV and minority stakes in Japan Sky Broadcasting, Sky Latin America, Germany's Premiere, Italy's Stream and Foxtel in Australia. The announcement led to a series of feverish negotiations as both Vivendi and Kirch attempted to add their own broadcast interests into what was expected to be the world's biggest media IPO, set for 2000 or 2001. Vivendi proved particularly aggressive in the negotiations, especially after its own acquisition of Seagram's Universal Entertainment businesses.

In 2001, another general economic downturn and especially a fall in advertising revenues, forced News Corporation to revise its plans for Sky Global Networks. At the same time, the group became embroiled in a long and seemingly fruitless series of negotiations to crown its plans with the purchase of US satellite broadcaster DirecTV. By 2002 financial problems at both Vivendi and Kirch further complicated the Sky Global concept, which was effectively put on hold. However Sky itself continued to perform strongly, hitting its anticipated target of 5m subscribers in 2001, and shutting down its analogue signal early to become a digital-only broadcaster. The group launched its Sky+ Personal Television Recorder at the end of the year as a rival to TiVo. In 2002, another rival broadcaster ITV Digital (originally launched as OnDigital) collapsed under the weight of its massive debts, leaving Sky once again the only serious player in the digital market.

As ITV also struggled with falling advertising revenues and audience shares, Sky pressed ahead with new expansion plans. In 2002 the group scored a major coup in capturing highly regarded Dawn Airey as managing director, Sky Networks, and revealed plans to sharply increase spending on "original content". (Airey left the company in 2007). The group continued to extend its hold on sports coverage in 2003, agreeing a further three-year package for exclusive live rights to all Premier League football matches from 2004 until 2006, at a cost of £1bn. However this led to growing conflict with European regulators who forced the group to sub-license some matches to terrestrial UK broadcasters. The EC also ruled that the Premier League must sell rights to more than one broadcaster after 2006. Later in the year, chief executive Tony Ball, the successor to Sam Chisholm, and widely credited for the successful transformation of Sky into Europe's most profitable pay-TV business, announced he would step down from the company in 2004 at the end of his contract. Despite considerable protest from shareholders and unions, Rupert Murdoch's son James was confirmed as Ball's replacement. In a bid to appease protestors, Rupert Murdoch announced he would remain chairman, but would appoint Lord Rothschild as an "impartial" deputy chairman. 

In November 2006, BSkyB effectively blocked an attempt by cable group Virgin Media (formerly NTL Telewest) to acquire the UK's free-to-air commercial broadcaster ITV by acquiring an 18% shareholding in the latter for around £940m. BSkyB is prevented from owning more than 20% of ITV by cross-media ownership regulations, but the stake gave Rupert Murdoch a significant voice in the future development of terrestrial broadcasting in Britain. Virgin launched an outspoken attack on BSkyB's tactics and called for a regulatory investigation of the purchase. This led to an increasingly bitter war of words between the two companies, which reached new levels when BSkyB sought to renegotiate its arrangement with Virgin Media over carriage of its free-to-air cable channels. Sky's attempts to raise the wholesale price of its service was rejected by Virgin, and when the two sides failed to reach a compromise, Sky switched off supply of the channels in Spring 2007. A savage PR battle ensued, with both sides launching marketing campaigns to criticise the other. see full profile for current activities

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